Series 2 — Episode 21
The White Dwarf
Teleplay by Malcolm Hulke
Directed by Richmond Harding
Production completed: 16 February 1963. First transmission: 16 February 1963
TV Times summary
The White Dwarf threatens Earth. Cathy studies the stars and Steed turns financier to save mankind
Barker and Johnson conspire to defraud the Stock Market by convincing the Government that The White Dwarf will collide with the Earth. At the observatory, Cartright kills Richter and Rahim to prevent them discovering the truth. The conmen fall out when Barker’s brother finds out and Barker kills Johnson. But when he does a final check, Cartright is amazed to see the star on a collision course and the world will surely end! Convinced that Barker double-crossed him, Cartright exposes the plan and Steed has a shoot-out with the financier. Mrs Gale had swapped the plates in the telescope with fake ones - The White Dwarf has not moved at all!
Professor Richter (Keith Pyott) records his observations of the white dwarf, Richter Alpha, into a dictaphone. He calculates it’s moved 3° in an elliptical orbit in the past six months, contradicting previous expectations. Just then, someone grabs him from behind and his hand, flailing about, stops the tape.
John Steed (Patrick Macnee) has been on the phone since dawn, much to Sheba’s disgust, but is still in his dressing gown when Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman) arrives on his summons. He hands her a coffee and the morning papers and she sees the army’s been mobilised and he asks her if she knows what a white dwarf is. Cathy explains it to him1 and says Richter has a theory that our solar system was caused by a binary star exploding, and the white dwarf will one day re-enter the solar system. She’s shocked when Steed tells her Richter was murdered last night, all his notes stolen and the recording destroyed. Richter had approached the Ministry of Science six months ago, expecting the white dwarf to re-enter the solar system in fifteen months from then and had been making a crucial six month observation, which would confirm or deny his calculations, the night before. Cathy exclaims that the white dwarf would head for the sun, taking all the planets with it and Steed explains the army has been mobilised to maintain law and order, should the news cause widespread panic. They’re not informing other governments or observatories until they’re sure. He asks Cathy to go to Tor Point Observatory in Cornwall.
CATHY: And what will you be doing while I’m away?
STEED: What do you think? Having a good time while there’s still time to have it.
The Minister of Science, Sir Charles (Daniel Thorndike), is greeted in his office by Henry Barker (Peter Copley) who tells him another observation can’t be made for four days, and he’d advised Professor Cartright at the observatory not to inform the local police. The minister tells him to ring Cartright.
Professor Cartright (Philip Latham) is furious and wants to inform the police but understands he has no choice; Barker tells him Richter has been listed as ‘being on indefinite leave’ and the report of the observation must be delivered by 1am on Thursday. Dr Elizabeth Fuller (Vivienne Drummond) and Dr Rahim (Paul Anil), two other astronomers, hear the call on the speaker. Dr Fuller suggest asking Mount Glomond Observatory in California to make an observation but Cartright is worried about the story leaking and rejects the idea, despite Rahim saying people have a right to know. Elizabeth offers to tell Richter’s son what’s happened. When she does so, the dead professor’s son, Dr Luke Richter (George Roubicek), is angered to learn it’s being hushed up and wants to go to the police or find the killer himself.
Maxwell Barker (George A. Cooper) meanwhile is in his apartment with an American broker, Johnson (Bill Nagy), who is furiously selling stocks on the phone. Johnson hangs up and announces their cash reserve is £7,500,000, but could make it £30-40,000,000 if Barker would let more people in on the tip-off. Barker refuses, saying the risk is too great, and getting large sums back is harder than small ones.
MAX: When you’re one of the two richest men in the world, that’s the time to think about doing favours. Even then, I consider it to be a sign of moral weakness.
Henry arrives as Johnson is leaving and naïvely observes he and Max couldn’t be any more different, and adds that all of Max’s dealing will be for naught if Richter were right. Max asks him why there was no announcement and is told there won’t be an announcement before Thursday morning, so they can be sure, but Henry finds it hard to believe Richter was wrong.
Cathy arrives at a vegetarian guest house in Tor Point and meets the proprietor, Miss Tregarth (Constance Chapman), who introduces her to Dr Fuller. Cathy claims she was working in India for the last few years, but reveals a knowledge of the research done by the Tor Point staff, including Fuller. Cathy asks what Richter is working on just as Luke arrives, and he grumpily feeds her the official ‘indefinite leave’ line. Fuller introduces Cathy and Cathy is somewhat shaken to learn that Dr Rahim from Bombay is at the Observatory.
Rahim meanwhile approaches Cartright, hoping to see if he can detect the dwarf’s gravitational pull on a comet - Drondima - near it; Cartright reluctantly agrees saying the chances of calculating correctly are slim. Rahim has ascended to the telescope and settled in by the time Cathy arrives with Fuller and Luke and she’s introduced to Cartright. Fuller notices Rahim’s name on the roster and Cartright explains he had an idea about Richter Alpha2. Luke leads her up to see the telescope and they discover Rahim has been murdered.
Barker’s butler (John Falconer) lets Johnson in and Max tells Johnson that Rahim has been murdered. Johnson is worried the police will become involved and Max explains the government’s cautious response - and wonders if Cathy’s arrival, which he’s also learnt about, isn’t just coincidence. Johnson suggests they fix an ‘independent observation’ to force the government’s hand and he makes a call to Larson, an American astronomer over whom he has a hold.
Cathy meanwhile has returned to London and tells Steed Rahim was trying to learn more about the dwarf, and Richter’s staff are all very loyal. Steed counters the only reason Richter would have been killed is if he were actually wrong. Steed theorises there would be only two motives for benefiting from expected world devastation - a political one, where an organised country could easily conquer panicking ones. Cathy disputes this, saying that country’s army might panic also, so he proposes a second solution, based in the stockmarket. Cathy says prices drop at the threat of war, except armaments, and Steed suggests the biggest killing in history could be made in the few days before other observatories could contradict the British government’s announcement, and Richter was killed to stop him contradicting his original theory. Steed’s collected a list of brokers who have done a lot of selling lately, to raise the cash reserves necessary, and Cathy spots the name “Maxwell Barker” and wonders if he’s related to the Henry Barker mentioned in her Ministerial letter of introduction.
Henry meanwhile is trying to placate an angry Cartright, who’s demanding police intervention. The minister enters and agrees, but not until after they’ve determined the status of the white dwarf. He proposes sending Barker to Cornwall to oversee security. The intercom announces Steed’s arrival and the minister and Cartright leave, the minster offering Cartright a lift to the station. Steed introduces himself as a stockbroker and baldly asks Barker if there’s any chance of them all being wiped out by the white dwarf, greatly shocking the bureaucrat.
Henry arrives at Max’s apartment as Johnson finishes pressuring his tame scientist and confronts his brother with leaking the story. Max denies it, but he - and the eavesdropping Johnson - are disturbed to hear that Steed named Max, gave a list of the stock he’d liquidated, and suggested Max was trying to swindle the market by starting the white dwarf rumour. Max suggests all manner of other avenues for a leak, but Henry firmly says he’ll offer the minister his resignation in the morning, and he’ll never trust his brother again. Johnson emerges and says they have to do something.
JOHNSON: You don’t think I’m going to let him keep his morning appointment with the minister now, do you?
MAX: Knowing my brother, I can’t think of any way to stop him.
JOHNSON: Yeah? There’s always one way...
Steed tells Cathy that Barker shot out of the Ministry ten minutes after he left and went straight to his brother’s apartment - either he sold the secrets or he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Cathy is more open minded.
CATHY: After all, what would you do if someone came bursting in here and accused your brother of perpetrating a swindle?
STEED: I should be very surprised, I haven’t got a brother.
Steed receives a call - Larson has announced his fake research - Cathy is worried, but Steed refuses to believe it’s genuine, due to the murders. Steed rushes off and breaks into Barker’s apartment, finding Johnson’s body on the floor.
Max appeals to Henry for help, saying Johnson was going to kill Henry. Max asks him not to resign as it will expose everything and Henry agrees, but as he no longer trusts Max, hhe’s not to be out of his sight and will accompany Henry to Tor Point.
Steed tells Cathy about the body and says Johnson had been merging his business with Max’s over the last few months. He then gives her two slides of an observation3 and she thinks they look convincing. She returns to Cornwall where Luke and Elizabeth are discussing over one of Miss Tregarth’s mysterious vegetarian dinners how they’ll spend their remaining months of life before the dwarf destroys Earth. She says she’s undecided and tentatively asks what he’d do if there wasn’t a dwarf and he takes her hand, saying he’d take a high paying job in America and take her with him. Cathy joins them and Luke accuses her of being a Ministry spy and leaps up, annoyed at the hushing up of his father’s death and spills the beans about the dwarf to her, connecting the murders to it despite Fuller’s protests.
Cathy returns to the observatory, taking Elizabeth’s key, and Elizabeth excuses herself to call Cartright to warn him she’s on the way and he says he knows how what to do about Dr Gale...
Cathy goes up to the telescope when she arrives and switches some of the plates in a box with the faked ones3 from her briefcase, then runs into Cartright who asks her into his office. He takes her briefcase and tells her he’s been told that Luke revealed all. Steed meanwhile arrives at the guest house only to learn the last room has just gone to ‘two men from the ministry’ and is offered a blanket on the settee, at a reduction.
STEED: That would suit me admirably, thank you.
TREGARTH: Oh! Well that’s alright then. Just for the one night, it won’t be the end of the world.
Luke and Fuller arrive at the observatory and Elizabeth goes to line up the telescope while Luke apologises to Cathy for being so brutal. They’re all about to follow Elizabeth up when the doorbell rings and Cartright goes to roll out the carpet to the men from the Ministry, and leads Henry and Max - after a flicker of recognition - up to the dome, where they meet Fuller. Luke goes to join them and Cathy follows after retrieving her briefcase and unlocking the front door.
She arrives just as Cartright is handed one of Cathy’s slides by Fuller. He is appalled to see that the dwarf is apparently on course and announces that Richter was right, scaring Max terribly. Steed slips in the front door while Cartright regrets having anything to do with Max in the last months of his life then confesses to the murders of Richter and Rahim for £1,000,000. Max draws a revolver and shoots him, then runs as Steed arrives. They trade shots at each other as they run through the darkened observatory, Max running out of ammunition and being knocked off a ladder by Steed.
Cathy inspects a consignment of books Steed has just received and discovers they’re all about astrology instead of astronomy. He blithely says the bookshop assistant must have made a mistake and opens one then asks her birth date - 5th October - and he reads out her her horoscope for the coming week - it’s finally time to break out of your rut and live dangerously!
- Cathy says a white dwarf is the core of a super nova, left when a star explodes. The last one recorded was in 1054 and the Crab Nebula is its debris.
- He says Alpha Richter but I have decided to keep the references consistent.
- It’s not spelled out if the faked slides were cabled from Larson in America or specially faked for Steed to use. Either way, they are fake slides.